Umbria, the ‘green heart of Italy’, is a region with a proud history and age-old tradition for winemaking. Although it doesn’t enjoy the same recognition as neighbouring Tuscany, Umbria produces some of Italy’s most unique and exquisite wines, and can rival anywhere in the country for its cultivated rural beauty. After journeying through the region’s historic towns, hilly landscapes and endless sloping vineyards, we have compiled our picks of the best wineries in Umbria, and our thoughts on why you should include this fabulous place in your Italian wine adventure.
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Umbria wine: a brief overview
Umbria is at Italy’s very centre, and is the country’s only region with no coastline or international border. Its land has been largely cultivated for agriculture, with much of its scenery defined by lush vineyards, olive groves and pristine farmland.
During our visit to Umbria we were struck by the people’s love for the land. Everywhere we went, we could see an incredible amount of care taken to grow and produce in a sustainable way.
We focused our trip on three of Umbria’s foremost wine sub-regions: Assisi, Montefalco and Orvieto. On our final day, when we chatted with a local about our route through Umbria, they remarked “ah, you have been following the wine!”
Below, we delve into each of these sub-regions, their intricacies, microclimates and signature wines, and what you can expect to find at our selected wineries. For more help with planning your trip, take a look at our 7-day Umbria travel itinerary.
Best wineries in Umbria: Assisi
Assisi is perhaps the most iconic of Umbria’s medieval towns, built on the western slopes of Monte Subasio, a mountain held in sacred regard by local communities. Assisi is today a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The birthplace of St Francis, the town’s streets are adorned with several magnificent churches and castles, and from its balconies and hilly walkways you can look out upon many miles of green Umbrian plains.
Assisi’s mountainside setting gives it a microclimate that is highly conducive for winemaking. The mineral-rich, permeable soils combined with the natural balance of sun and wind are perfect for creating elegant and sophisticated wines. The grapes grown around Assisi include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Grechetto and Trebbiano.
The town’s tradition for wine is complemented by an equally delectable output of organic food produce. Local favourites include porchetta and truffles, as well as many cheeses, breads, olives and meats. You will find an abundance of such produce and wine varieties in shops around the town centre, but for an authentic experience there’s nothing like getting out into the vineyards…
Tili Vini is a small, organic winery just a few kilometres south-east of Assisi along the foothills of Monte Subasio. Wine has been made on the Tili Farm since the 13th century, and the family began commercial production on the site in 1978. While the winery has been modernised over the years, the essence of its age-old vision remains as strong as ever.
The Tili family produces wine with a fervent care for nature and the land. Every step of the process is organic, from hand-picking grapes with a small team of people right through to steam-cleaning machines to avoid chemical contamination. There are no pesticides or synthetic products used at any stage; every one of the 100,000 bottles of wine produced each year is pure and natural.
When we arrived on the Tili Vini estate early on an April morning, we got the sense that every visitor is treated as a welcome guest of the family. Annalaura Tili greeted us with a joyous energy that never dimmed throughout the day, her buoyant spirit no doubt reflective of the passion the whole family puts into the business.
That morning we were invited to accompany Annalaura into the nearby forest on a truffle hunt, but first, she gave us a tour of the grounds. As we walked through the pristine vineyards, she described the hand-picking process in more detail. Harvesting by hand, she explained, means you can select the best grapes without needing to use chemicals to separate them, and you also scare away any creatures that might affect the grapes.
“For us, organic is a lifestyle,” she said. While seasonal employees help to harvest the grapes each year, most of the work is done by the family.
Moving inside to the production area, Annalaura complemented her explanation of the technical processes with stories about the intriguing heritage of the estate. For example, many centuries ago, the family needed to seek direct permission from the Pope to make wine and olive oil.
The truffle hunters arrived just as we re-emerged outside, and it was time to set off for the forest.
The truffle hunt
Truffle hunting is a highly specialist undertaking, and it was a delight for us to see it in action. Truffles only grow in very distinct circumstances, at high altitude, in rainy conditions, and often near hazelnut or oak trees.
Our group was accompanied by Luna and Mia, two fully trained and licensed dogs, to seek out the fruiting fungi that grow just underneath the surface of the ground. The moment they were unleashed into the wooded area, both dogs were off like a bolt, sniffing and scrabbling at the ground.
It was only a few seconds until Luna unearthed the first fruity black truffle. With each success the dog trainers rewarded the loveable dogs with a little treat, and they were off again. Half an hour’s eager hunting yielded enough truffles to fill a small bucket.
Dinner and wine with the family
Back at the estate we were welcomed into the building, where the family were busy rolling fresh pasta. Our visit happened to be on Easter Monday, and we were about to join a very special dinner in the family home. A huge round table was already set, and as we sat down the first plates were served onto a Lazy Sunday tray.
This was a multi-course meal served the traditional way. After some antipasti of cured meats and bruschetta with olive oil and fresh tomatoes, next up was a bowl of the freshly made pasta with truffles from the morning’s hunt, followed by a delicious course of slow-cooked lamb and potatoes.
What an incredible banquet this was, and a privilege to enjoy it in the smiling company of the Tili family. As each course progressed, we sampled a series of Tili’s famous organic wines, from a fresh and light Grechetto through to a rich and fruity Assisi Rosso. We took a strong liking to the rosé, produced with no sugar for a refreshing dry flavour.
Smiling as always, Annalaura told us how the Pinot Noir is her mother’s favourite, but her father believes you can’t call it red wine unless it’s been aged in oak for at least two years!
How to book
Tili Vini offers a variety of tasting experiences, from the classic and interactive to the funny and peculiar. You can find out more at www.tilivini.com. You can also book an organic wine and cheese tasting at Tili Vini via GetYourGuide, which includes free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour.
When it comes to wineries in iconic locations, few in Umbria can rival SAIO. Standing on a plain just beneath Assisi, its lush vineyards and olive groves are within close sight of the striking, historic basilicas of St Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli. It’s not only the location that makes SAIO special, however.
The winery is run with great love and care by the Mencarelli family, whose extensive knowledge and experience goes into crafting high-quality wines and extra virgin olive oil. They also have a creative flair for hospitality, offering alternative experiences such as picnic lunches and self-guided vineyard trekking.
After parking up outside SAIO’s boutique-style wine shop, built inside a 19th century country house, we were greeted at the doors by Agnese Mencarelli. We liked her immediately; a charismatic host with an infectiously charming nature.
Our experience at SAIO was structured very differently to typical winery tours, which we really loved. Instead of touring production facilities and learning about the technicalities of winemaking, we began with a tasting before a vineyard trek and picnic. Doing it this way round meant we could choose our favourite wine for the picnic.
As we worked our way through sampling the house wines, Agnese gave us background insights into each of them in intricate detail, and answered our questions about the winery. Where does the name SAIO come from, for example? She explained that it’s the name of the robes that were worn by the friars of the Franciscan order.
SAIO mainly makes red wine, and, accordingly, four of the five wines we tasted were reds. No complaints from us there! We opted for the 100% Sangiovese to take on our picnic, a choice that surprised Agnese – the most popular wines tend to be the Eremo, which is a Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese blend, and the Merlot Sangiovese. We liked these too, particularly the smooth, full-bodied richness of the Eremo, but in the moment we felt the fruity, spicy tones of the Sangiovese would be a lovely accompaniment for our afternoon picnic.
All ready to go, Agnese provided us with a map for our self-guided trekking tour of the vineyards, and off we went.
Vineyard trekking and picnic
The vineyard trekking path followed a short and gentle route through SAIO’s picturesque territory of vineyards and olive groves, with signs dotted along the way giving insight into what’s grown in each field. Agnese had also given us a leaflet with deeper information about the ancient heritage and winemaking innovation through the years.
Taking our time to enjoy the fresh air, scenery and newfound knowledge, we finally culminated at a pavilion, where Agnese was waiting with our carefully prepared picnic. Sitting down at a cute wooden bench in full view of the splendour of Assisi, we could also see across to the Santa Maria degli Angeli in one direction, and Perugia in another.
The food was fabulous. Bruschetta doused in SAIO’s extra virgin olive oil, Umbrian flatbreads, cured meats and pecorino cheese, as well as a traditional cake. Finally, we sampled some sweet-tasting local biscuits, which, as Agnese had told us, some people like to dip in red wine. As unconventional as this sounded, it actually tasted great!
How to book
You can book SAIO picnics, vineyard trekking, vine-growing courses, gift packages and more online at www.saioassisi.it.
Best wineries in Umbria: Montefalco
Montefalco is a charming hilltop town right in the middle of Umbria, and one of the most renowned spots in the region for wine-making. From the town’s lofty perch you can see across reams of vineyards and olive groves to a mountainous horizon in the distance. For this reason it is known as the ‘balcony of Umbria’.
Montefalco is most famous for the Sagrantino grape, which is indigenous to the area and only grown here. Sagrantino has been cultivated since as far back as the 16th century, when monks used it to make sweet wine. In the 1970s it underwent a revival, and has grown in popularity ever since. Today there are over 2,400 acres of Sagrantino vines planted around Montefalco.
The signature white wine of Montefalco is Grechetto, a grape of Greek origins indigenous to central Italy.
The area oozes a relaxed approach to life and a oneness with nature. You can always expect to find fresh air, great locally sourced food, excellent wine, and smiling, friendly people.
Montioni Frantoio e Cantina
The Montioni farm has been producing wine and olive oil for almost half a century, founded in 1972 by Adeodato Montioni. Today it is run by his grandson, Paolo Montioni, who has upheld its tradition of making great wine while respecting the natural surroundings. The family lives in their home on the main winery site.
In total, Montioni owns 8 hectares of vineyards and 3,500 olive trees spread around the Montefalco area. Paolo welcomed us onto the estate with a smile and invited us to take a tour of the grounds with him.
As we drove to the first location, Paolo told us how he has grown the family business since taking an accountancy qualification. We could clearly see that he considers the winery not just as a business, but also as a lifestyle.
“All of my employees must have a smile and be passionate about what they do,” he told us.
At the first location, some 400 metres above sea level, we walked slowly through young olive trees and sprawling vineyards. Paolo never buys land that is below 250 metres altitude or too steep.
He explained how the grapes are harvested by hand to select the very best, and that he uses sulphur and copper to protect the vines, not pesticides. “Montefalco has a microclimate with many different flowers and insects,” he said.
He then drove us to a hilltop olive grove with spectacular views of Montefalco and the surrounding landscapes from one of the highest points in the area. Here, we saw olive trees over 100 years old, and Paolo showed us some wild asparagus growing inside a hollowed trunk.
Back at the main centre, we enjoyed a personal tour of the extra virgin olive oil production facilities in the frantoio before visiting the wine cellars to see the wooden barrels used to mature the wine. Finally, we were welcomed into the warm and rustic tasting room.
Once we were seated, Paolo and the family team brought out plates of mouth-watering food – breads drizzled with olive oil from the farm, a traditional filled pastry delicacy and omelette, plates of meats and cheeses, tomato and mozzarella.
This set the stage perfectly for a sampling a selection of house wines. First, a wonderfully fresh and fruity Umbria Grechetto IGT white wine, perfect as an aperitif.
We then worked through a series of reds. Umbria Rosso, a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot; Montefalco Rosso, a blend of 65% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 15% Sagrantino; and our favourite, the house 100% Montefalco Sagrantino. All excellent wines, and they taste even better when you know the love and care that has gone into making them.
Next was Paolo’s masterpiece, a wine called Ma Gia, created from a single Sagrantino vineyard and named in honour of his children. The winery only produces 700 bottles of this each year, fermented for 60 days in a wooden cask and barrel-matured for 30 months. We felt honoured to have a taste of it!
To cap off a wonderful, immersive experience, we finished with a glass of passito, a sweet dessert wine.
Edit: a few months after our vineyard exploration of Umbria, we loved Montioni’s wine so much that we order a couple of cases to be delivered to us in the UK. This added a wonderful touch when hosting a family Christmas!
How to book
You can book tour and tasting experiences and buy Montioni products online at www.gabrielemontioni.it.
Set in a gorgeous rural location a few kilometres outside Montefalco town, Cantina Scacciadiavoli is one of Umbria’s oldest wineries. Founded in 1884 by a prince from Rome, it has a complex and fascinating history of wine production. After changing hands several times in the first half of the 20th century through world wars and national financial crises, the winery was finally bought by Amilcare Pambufetti in 1954, and it is now owned and run by the fourth generation of his family.
The main building of Cantina Scacciadiavoli is built into a sloping hillside, which has allowed its winemakers to harness the power of gravity throughout the production cycle, negating the need for expensive machinery. Complete with solar panels, the entire process is self-sufficient and sustainable.
We could see the Scacciadiavoli grounds and its rolling hillside vineyards emerging below as we descended to it, hiking along the Strada del Sagrantino wine route. The two white triangular peaks of the main building were unmistakable, even from a kilometre away.
Arriving at the site we were warmly greeted by Liù, Amilcare Pambufetti’s great-granddaughter and one of the latest generation running the family business. With Liù as our tour guide we had a personal insight into the fascinating heritage of the place.
Liu led us to the rear of the building on the hill-slope, from where we could see out across the vineyards. She explained how the grapes are hand-picked and brought to a machine to be separated from the vine, before being passed into the second floor of the building for fermentation.
The wine is then fed down through holes in the ground at each stage of the process, utilising gravity and the building’s natural temperature for maximum efficiency. Finally, the wine reaches the cellar where it is aged in barrels, with an outside tunnel keeping the air controlled.
As we passed down through the building’s levels, Liù explained how small modifications had been made over the years to modernise the process, but how the original principle had essentially remained the same.
It must be very special to be a part of such a unique family enterprise, we said to Liù. She clearly took great pride in the work she was doing at Scacciadiavoli. She told us how she had been one of five in her generation of the family to go away and explore other places – in her case to study economics in Milan and then a masters in winemaking in Bordeaux – yet ultimately return to the winery.
With the midday sun beating down, we sat outside in the courtyard as Liù served up a superbly generous lunch of many dishes. Roast pork, a traditional dish of fish and chick peas, salad, meats and cheeses, antipasti, olive oil with bread – a delicious feast, to be accompanied by a selection of fine Scacciadiavoli wines.
Two of the wines we tasted were unique products. Scacciadiavoli is the only to producer to make a sparkling Sagrantino, as well as a rosé made from 100% Sagrantino grapes. Perfect wines for the summery weather, as were the two clean and fresh whites we tried – Grechetto DOC and Bianco DOC.
We also sampled some smooth reds, beginning with Montefalco Rosso DOC, a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot and 15% Sagrantino. We particularly liked the complex structure and aroma of the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. Finally our meal culminated with a taste of the Montefalco Sagrantino Passito sweet dessert wine, accompanied by some traditional cake.
How to book
You can book tour and tasting experiences and buy Cantina Scacciadiavoli products online at www.cantinascacciadiavoli.it.
Arnaldo Caprai is one of the most renowned wineries in the Montefalco area and has received widespread recognition for the quality of its Sagrantino. It is also one of the largest wine producers in the area, with 136 hectares of vineyards and an output of around 800,000 bottles per year. The main chateau-style building sits the middle of its vast vineyards and olive groves, occupying a stunning location with views across an open rural landscape.
The reputation of Arnaldo Caprai’s Sagrantino wine is no coincidence. In the nearly half-century since it was opened on a small 5-hectare estate in 1971, the Caprai family has put science and innovation at the heart of winemaking in a quest to find the perfect method.
We arrived at the Arnaldo Caprai estate late on an April afternoon, with the day’s sunlight just beginning to wane. As we approached the chateau building through a long olive grove, the lowing sun cast shadows of trees all along the path. A great time of day to visit, we thought.
Entering the building, we were greeted by Giulia, who had invited us, and Eleonora, our host for a tour of the grounds and cellars. Walking back out into the grounds, Eleonora explained how one side of the vineyards was the source for red wines, with mineral-rich clay soil, while the softer soil on the other side was used to produce whites.
Arnaldo Caprai has been a historical innovator with the Sagrantino grape, using it to produce a dry wine when it was traditionally harnessed for sweet wine. Eleonora explained how the science of winemaking has always been central to the the Caprai vision.
Back in 1990, Arnaldo Caprai entered a collaboration with the University of Milan to study the DNA of the Sagrantino grape. By researching plants from 300 years ago through to today, this work uncovered that the grape’s DNA had changed over the years.
With this newfound evidence, the winemakers of Arnaldo Caprai experimented with different ways of growing the vines until they found the method behind their award-winning Sagrantino. In the mid-1990s, they produced a wine to mark the 25th anniversary – 25 Anniversario Sagrantino di Montefalco – which continues to be one of its most acclaimed wines.
Back into the building and down into the cellars, Eleonora talked us through the production cycle, and the different ageing processes for different varieties. At every step of our experience we could see the strong emphasis on using science and knowledge to produce quality wine – so we were excited to taste the results.
The tasting room at Arnaldo Caprai had a much more modern feel in comparison to most wineries we visited in Umbria, with stools set around a chic bar with underlit surfaces. Around the room, bottles of signatures wines were on display in neat wooden shelves.
Eleonora brought out plates of charcuterie meats, cheeses and breads with olive oil before introducing our first wine, a Grecante Colli Martani Grechetto DOC, made from 100% Grechetto. A delicious fresh and fruity wine to get us started.
We then worked through a series of reds, starting with a Montefalco Rosso DOC and a Montefalco Rosso Riserva DOC. We tried three 100% Sagrantinos: the Valdimaggio, Collepiano, and finally the signature 25 Anniversario. All excellent wines worthy of the hype, and we both took a particular liking to the Collepiano. Smooth, elegant and delicious!
How to book
Arnaldo Caprai offers a full range of experiences from walk-tastings through to tailored tours. You can book and buy products online at www.arnaldocaprai.it.
Cantina Le Cimate
Founded in 2011 by Paolo Bartoloni, Cantina Le Cimate is one of the newest wineries in Montefalco, but it is also one built on old roots of tradition and knowledge. Wine has been in Paolo’s family for years, dating back to his grandfather who dedicated his life to agriculture and grape-growing.
Cantina Le Cimate is perched on a hilltop with stunning panoramic views of Montefalco, the Umbrian Valley and the mountains beyond. The estate was passed to Paolo in 2010, when his grandfather gave him 180 hectares of land. Most of the space is used to grow vineyards and olive trees, maintaining the family traditions, but recently Paolo has repurposed some land to grow hazelnuts, as he seeks to diversify and grow the business.
We were lucky to have Paolo himself as our guide for a tour of Cantina Le Cimate’s grounds. It’s always that extra bit special to hear the story from the person behind it, and Paolo was clearly very proud and passionate about his work.
He led us down into the basement, where he gave technical insights into the production techniques used at the winery. At the same time, he added depth to the family background, filling in the aspects of the story we were curious about.
Paolo’s grandfather bought the land from the Vatican City in the early 1990s. Following in his footsteps, Paolo studied agriculture in Perugia in 2007, telling his grandfather that he wanted to “follow the soil”. At the same time, a strong business acumen has always been in the family too; Paolo’s grandmother once owned a brick business, and his father has led companies with hundreds of employees across Europe.
All of this is the recipe for Le Cimate, an exciting modern business built on the foundations of cultivating local land for great produce. But where did the name ‘Le Cimate’ come from, we wondered? It is unusual for such a family-oriented business not to take the family name. Paolo explained.
“It comes from a priest who lived in this house and called it Le Cimate, as it means ‘top of the hill’”, he said. “Sometimes people assume there is a connection with ‘climate’, but it’s a completely different meaning.” We also asked about the winery’s interesting logo. “It is two half moons, representing the two Cs of Cantina and Cimate,” he said.
Fulfilled with our new knowledge of this fascinating venture blending the old and the new, Paolo led us upstairs to a room where a table was laid for our tasting.
Paolo brought out a plate of meats, cheeses and breads while we chatted more about the winery and business. He was full of ideas about how it might grow and develop in future, and always spoke with an air of excitement.
We began with a taste of two white wines, a Vermentino followed by a Trebbiano Spoletino DOC. We particularly liked the latter, with a punchy flavour of peach and zest.
Then, we sampled a Saudade Rosata Umbria IGT rosé. Paolo had explained earlier how rosé is typically 92% white and 8% red, but his method uses 100% Sagrantino grape harvested prematurely. We were captivated by its lasting, complex flavour of summer fruits and berries.
Moving on, we sampled a series of reds. The standout for us was a 2014 Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, with a strong a rich character and lasting taste. Our favourite kind of wine! It was a year we had heard a lot about during our time in Umbria. “2014 was seen to be a bad year for the weather,” explained Paolo. “But many journalists have given great reviews of the wine!”
How to book
You can book tour and tasting experiences and buy Cantina Le Cimate products online at www.lecimate.it.
Best wineries in Umbria: Orvieto
Orvieto is the most productive wine area within Umbria, accounting for around 80% of the region’s total vineyard area.
Perched atop a rugged volcanic rock face, The citadel of Orvieto can be seen for many miles around. Its roots date back to the Etruscan era, long before it became a stronghold of the Roman Empire. Underneath the cobbled alleyways and medieval piazzas, a network of underground caves harks back to the city’s ancient origins.
It was in such underground cellars that the Etruscans who first produced wine in Orvieto. Today, winemaking is a cornerstone of Orvieto’s economy, and the city is surrounded by sweeping hills and fields of vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Orvieto’s most famous wines are whites, made from blends of Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes. For a wine to be certified Orvieto DOC, it must consist of at least 60% of this blend.
Decugnano Dei Barbi
Set on the captivating site of a 13th century hilltop village where monks once produced wine for the clergy of Orvieto, Decugnano Dei Barbi is now a family-run winery that stays true to its roots. The site is located on the grounds of the church of Santa Maria di Decugnano, hence the name. Restored in 1973 following the Italian boom in the 1960s, the Barbi family began by producing wines solely for the pleasure of family and friends.
After ten years of production the wine started to win awards. This prompted Decugnano Dei Barbi to grow more vines, sell locally and eventually branch out further, introducing tours of the grounds just ten years ago. Now it stands firm as a small-to-medium winery, still run by a small core team of the Barbi family, producing 120,000 bottles per year and harvesting everything by hand to select the perfect grapes.
The drive up to the gates of the estate is a beautiful one, winding through the hills of the Umbrian countryside with views of Civitella Del Lago to the left and Orvieto to the right. Clara, our host, greeted us at the gate with a warm welcome and explained what would happen on the tour.
Walking through the production area and out into the vineyards, Clara explained how the soil we were standing on was once the bed of the Mediterranean Sea. Even though that was millions of years ago, we could still see shells in the ground and fossils in the walls of the cellar caves. These unique conditions add more minerals and salt to the wine in comparison to producers just on the other side of the valley.
We walked down the hill to reach the door to the cellars, dug out by monks in the 13th century. Now separated into three sections, the natural and consistent temperature and humidity of the cellars create the perfect environment for maturing wine. As we walked through we could see the minerals in the wall and feel the humidity change.
Back outside, Clara pointed out small rose plants at the end of each row of vines. This allows the family to detect if a fungus will attack, simply because it goes for the roses first – one of the many ways they respect the environment by using natural methods of protecting and caring for the plants.
Finally, we walked up to the site of the old church, which has been carefully restored and updated to host tastings, with spectacular views across the Umbrian valleys.
We took our seat at a grand table in the main room of the old church, the table already set. Clara brought out cured meats, cheeses, breads with olive oil, and bruschetta with artichoke and olive pates to accompany the wine.
We began with the Metodo Classico Brut vintage sparkling wine, which the family has been producing since it opened in 1973, made with 50 per cent Chardonnay and 50 per cent Pinot Noir. Next we tasted the Mare Antico, an elegant blend of Grechetto, Trebbiano, Vermentino and Chardonnay. Grown in soils of fossilised sea shells, we could almost taste the sea in the wine – in a good way!
Third we tried a red, the Il Rosso: a powerful, full-bodied blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Montepulciano, aged in French oak barrels. Clara was always considerate, giving us space to taste the wine and finish our food, while providing enough information in between to keep it interesting and enjoyable.
We finished with a very special wine that we loved so much we bought a bottle to take home. Pourriture Noble is a rare dessert wine made from grapes affected by ‘noble rot’. Its delightful sweet flavour was the perfect end to our visit.
How to book
Decugnano Dei Barbi runs a variety of tours, tastings and other experiences such as cooking classes. You can enquire and book online at www.decugnanodeibarbi.com.
Madonna Del Latte
Madonna Del Latte is a small, family-run winery on a stunning historic estate just outside Orvieto near Lake Bolsena. Its journey began in 2000 when Manuela Zardo and Hellmuth Zwecker bought a run-down building with a collapsing roof on the ancient site. After a transformative renovation, the first vines were planted in 2004, and the family started producing wine in 2008.
Today, Madonna Del Latte is run by Manuela and Hellmuth’s son, Leon Zwecker, and it has flourished into one of Umbria’s finest wineries. It produces around 20,000 bottles a year from its 7 hectares of vineyards, harnessing the quality of the area’s volcanic soil and the ample sunlight bestowed by its hilltop location.
Leon greeted us with a friendly smile in the blistering sunshine, welcoming us into his family home as though we were old friends. We could see straight away that he derives great happiness from the work he does at Madonna Del Latte.
“I feel like a big kid with my plants and machines,” he told us. “My whole life is about good wine and good food. It’s not just about business and making money.”
On this enthusiastic note, he began to show us around the grounds. We were fascinated to hear about the initial project of building a winery on a historic site that had turned to ruin, and how his family committed years of investment and dedication to get it up and running. “It was a project of passion and insanity!” Leon exclaimed.
Leon led us to a lookout point from where we could see out towards Lake Bolsena. The lake was formed by volcanoes collapsing thousands of years ago, bringing out the precious volcanic earth that Leon uses to grow the crop today.
All of the work at Madonna Del Latte, from harvesting through to bottling, is done by hand by a team of 10 to 15 people who work with the family seasonally. The full production process is powered sustainably using solar panels.
Leon showed us into the barrel cellar, set inside the remarkable site of a 2,000-year-old Etruscan tomb, minerals glistening on the walls. Down here the temperature stays at a constant 12 to 14 degrees – perfect for storing the barrels.
After guiding us through the production cycle, Leon led us back upstairs and into the tasting room, where plates and glasses were neatly laid out on a table for us.
As a quirky pairing for our wines, Leon brought out a plate of local goat’s cheese, matured under volcanic ash at a nearby farm, Fattoria Il Secondo Altopiano. Its soft, subtle and peppery flavour was like nothing we’d tasted before, complemented superbly by sundried tomatoes.
Our first taste of wine was the Rosario Brut, a sparkling rosé blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grown in the vineyards right outside. Leon explained how these grapes are slightly less mature than others, which keeps it light and fresh.
Next up we tried Viognier, a beautiful, semi-aromatic white wine, which was given a bronze Decanter award for its quality. The grape used for this wine almost died out because it is hard to maintain and isn’t suitable for mass production.
Finally, we tasted the signature red vintage Sucàno, a blend of 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, matured for two years in French oak barrels and two more in the bottle. We could taste the spicy flavours resulting from the volcanic soil and oak ageing. Coupled with the volcanic goat’s cheese, you couldn’t get a better, more unique flavour of Italy.
How to book
Madonna Del Latte is open for visits throughout the year. You can book a variety of tours and buy products online at www.madonnadellatte.it.
Map of the best wineries in Umbria
You can see the wineries we have featured in this article on the map below:
Further reading on Italy
Are you heading to Venice on your Italy travels? Read our two-day Venice itinerary for ideas on how to spend your time.